Monday, June 30, 2014

Transformers: Age of Extinction Review

Transformers:  Age of Extinction 

Director: Michael Bay
Cast Headliners:  Mark Wahlberg, Stanley Tucci, Peter Cullen, Kelsey Grammer
Original Release Date: June 29, 2014
            Where does one even begin for a review of the Transformers franchise? It’s like an overgrown gnarly beast that everyone keeps feeding wealth too; so I guess the way to go is just jump in and start attacking its weak points.  This FOURTH entry is Transformers: Age of Extinction, in which the Autobots are on the run and “Cade Yeager” (Mark Wahlberg) finds a mysterious big red truck which can only be one prime robot.  What follows is , to say the least, a very wild ride.
            Shia Labeouf as well as every other human character from the past installments are gone, with not even a bare mention. This is a “total reboot” yet it feels very similar to what has come before.  Cade Yeager is one of several of the new non-bot heroes, which includes his bickering daughter Tessa (Nicola Peltz) and her Irish racer boyfriend Shane (Jack Reynor), as well as “goofy” friend Lucas (TJ Miller).  Aside from Wahlberg’s Cade, it’s very hard to build empathy for these characters. Somehow this movie manages to both make the plot about the relationship between these three be irritating while also occasionally forgetting about it.   Not all humans are annoying however, with one villain in the turncoat CIA leader Harold Attinger( a fearsome Kelsey Grammer) and an even more interesting and funny character in the wacky CEO of KSI Industries Joshua Joyce(Stanley Tucci who has some of the best lines).
            This is a movie of contradictions. There’s lame characters, but then  (I’ll hesitantly say) good ones such as Cade, in which Wahlberg gives a very zany performance. The Autobots are also very distinct this time which is a nice change of pace, classics Optimus Prime(Peter Cullen who manages to make the leader of the Transformers more interesting each time he portrays him) and Bumblebee are joined by newcomers such as the WW2-esque Hound (John Goodman),  cowboy bandit-like Crosshairs, and samurai Drift (Ken Watanabe).  Action scenes are now more tolerable because one can tell its combatants apart more easily.
            That is, when they’re fighting the CIA agents or minions of vile intergalactic bounty hunter Lockdown.  There’s a faction in the film of new “human made transformers”  made by KSI Industries that transform by an incredible looking new nanomachine style.  But they look so similar to the Autobots that fight scenes can become confusing.
            However, there are some really pretty shots and visual effects. A few of the action scenes, especially the segment onboard Lockdown’s mothership above Chicago ( does Michael Bay have something against this city?) are awesome.   However they are a detraction when the movie runs too long and involves all these random side characters and enemy factions.  It’s a big chaotic mess.  It’s almost as if director Michael Bay thought “how can I out-Michael Bay myself?” and added more senseless explosions to the point of parody.  The movie is also headache inducingly long, and it has some odd camera angles, and silly country music, and even ironically some bad visual effects randomly mixed in,  and the dinobots are in it for so few minutes compared to their marketing push, and the China set segment could’ve been another movie….and…and!
            It’s a very rough movie, the franchise has lost so much of its original glamour. However in a odd way it is so entertaining due to its cheesiness. If taken as a serious film, it fails aside from some minorly entertaing plot twists and action segements. But as a Marky-Mark Weirdness Experience, it’s kinda really good.  It definitely cannot be called boring. The ending makes me worried that the next one cannot even be that and induced a big laugh from myaudience, in a serious science fiction film  7.38 out of 10

Sunday, June 22, 2014

22 Jump Street Review

22 Jump Street

Director: Phil Lord and Christopher Miller
Cast Headliners:  Channing Tatium, Jonah Hill, Ice Cube
Original Release Date: June 13, 2014

At some point 21 Jump Street was a serious police drama from the 1980’s starring Johnny Depp.   Then at a later point in 2012 it was rebooted with a film that had a approached which can simply be described as “radically different.”  The series has now become a comedy, and the premise of “cops going undercover in schools” totally worked when it came to humor.  Where before in all incarnations of the franchise the setting had been in high schools, now it has transitioned to taking place in a college.
Schmidt (Jonah Hill) and Greg(Channing Tatum) go on their mission to college sent by Cpt.Jackson (Ice Cube) of the now-22 Jump Street department. A lot of the jokes in this film happen on many levels; in this case the movie’s a sequel and they had to move down the street.  This is a trademark of directors  Phil Lord and Chris Miller, who have another good movie in 2014 after the brilliant Lego Movie in February.  Many times the movie references the fact that’s it’s a sequel and so on, which is good the first few time and less so after.
            One of the things 22 Jump Street mocks about itself is the fact that it’s so similar to the first film. And yes, there are a lot of parallels.  A fresh perspective comes from the fact that they are in college. So there’s the tropes of frats, and professors, and all the various mischief college brings.  The best laughs comes from Greg joining a fraternity and finding a new best friend in Zook(great up-and-comer Wyatt Russel) much to Schmidt’s agitation.   There’s not much that hasn’t really not been seen in a college movie before however.
            There’s some ok action sidelined to the laughs.  The situations are so extreme, the laughs very constant.  It’s a silly movie that will deliver to its target audience.  It’s more of the same and that’s not a bad thing for this very, very silly comedy. 8 out of 10

Edge of Tommorow Review

Edge of Tommorow 

Director: Doug Liman 
Cast Headliners:  Tom Cruise, Emily Blunt
Original Release Date: June 6, 2014
            Edge of Tommorow is based on a manga titled All You Need is Kill. It takes place in the not-too-distant future on a Earth that has been assaulted and subsequently occupied by dangerous alien creatures called “Mimics” for their ability to seemingly be able to copy the combat tactics of the allied United Defense Forces.
            It’s interesting that one of the best assets of this film is the least explosive.  Tom Cruise plays Major William Cage, a military man in the UDF who had been used to being behind a desk and not the front lines. Through shenangins he finds himself being prepared to deploy on the frontlines of the war against the Mimics against his will.   Cage is incredibly charismatic and Cruise’s performance as him really ties the movie together. 
            A movie about Tom Cruise being forced into being a grunt in an alien war would be enticing enough but things are complicated when he is exposed to Mimic blood which makes him repeat the previous day up until when he dies, over and over.  At times it can be overwhelming to the brain to see repetition of scenes, but luckily Cruise’s performance and director Doug Liman’s crisp editing make it tolerable.  He is joined in this quest by fellow soldier Sgt. Rita Vrataski(Emily Blunt) who is the only other person to have this power as well.  If Cruise is the heart of the movie,  Blunt’s Rita is its ultimate cool with her fierce demeanor and combat skills.  Their dialogue is pretty good and the two of them become a great team.  There is definitely a complex bent to this film.
            The action scenes are solid nonetheless. The UDF soldiers have awesome armored battle suits fitted with AI, rockets, and powerful jumps. It’s like something out of a video game, the difference being though that the enemies are sometimes hard to see. The Mimics move so fast it is at times hard to see them. It’s almost as if the soldiers are shooting so slickly and awesome at… nothing.   But this is not always the case; some of the action moments are absolutely incredible due to the film’s great visuals.
            Edge of Tommorow manages to make the “repeating day” formula work in a sci-fi context. It’s not perfect, but it’s highlights do shine.  8.2 out of 10  

How to Train Your Dragon 2 Review

How to Train Your Dragon 2

Director: Dean DeBlois
Cast Headliners:  Jay Baruchel, Gerard Butler, Cate Blanchett, America Ferrara, Djimon Hounsou  
Original Release Date: June 13, 2014
2010’s How to Train Your Dragon, first a series of children’s fantasy novels, was a big hit for DreamWorks Animation. The film combined a fun premise (Vikings vs dragons!) with some cool animation and some humorous likeable characters. How To Train Your Dragon 2 further improves on these strong traits to make a thrilling adventure.
This sequel resumes the story five years after the events of the previous one.  Dragons and the vikings of Berk live in harmony. This addition is great since it allows for even more exciting action set pieces involving the dragon riders.  Hiccup (Jay Baruchel) and his adorable yet cool dragon Toothless explore the lands around Berk charting out new territories.  Problems arise when a conspiracy starts involving both an army of dragon hunters led by the ferocious Drago (Djimon Hounsou)  and a dragon warlord.
It would ruin the film’s joys to give away what happens in the plot, but rest assured that it has a surprisingly decent depth for this medium. Veteran characters like Astrid(America Ferrera), Snotlout(Jonah Hill), Fishlegs(Christopher Mintz-Plasse), and the other such friends of Hiccup get more screentime and entertaining moments.  It’s also great to see the talks between Hiccup’s father Stoick( Gerard Butler) , Hiccup, and the blacksmith Gobber (Craig Ferguson).  Newcomer Erett(Kit Harrington) is also a great addition the cast of characters.  The movie has a pretty good mix between lighthearted humor, fantastical adventure action, and even some emotional drama.
            The dragons are, as expected, the stars of the show. They shine with color and neat design, and their “culture” is much more elaborated upon in this.  They are just some of the surprises of the film.  Their human peers in the story sometimes get a too silly or fall a bit flat, but their clashes can be awe inspiring.  This has taken everything from the first film up a notch, and it’s worth checking out. 8.5 out of 10

Sunday, June 1, 2014

X-Men: Days of Future Past Review

X-Men: Days of Future Past

Director: Bryan Singer
Cast Headliners:  Hugh Jackman, James McAcvoy , Michael Fassbender, Nicholas Hoult, Jennifer Lawrence, Patrick Stewart, many many others

Original Release Date: May 23rd, 2014

            Within movies, the superhero world that is one of the longest running and iconic is the X-Men. These “mutants” are born with incredible powerful abilities and the franchise has gone all over the place (really , it’s quite shocking the same franchise can contain X-Men Origins: Wolverine and also X-men: First Class)  but has maintained a core of the deep issues these characters face.  It’s very reassuring then that the newest entry, X-Men Days of Future Past,  is a stellar greatest hits of mutants and successfully mashes up both of its storylines to move the saga towards a form of epic conclusion it deserves.
            The movie is interesting as it serves as both an “X-Men 4” and a “X-Men First Class 2.”  The plotlines from both previous separate series films are continued forward as well as elements from 2013’s The Wolverine and even references to Origins: Wolverine.  While the film has solid storytelling and pacing, because of its intricate web of references to past entries in the series it recommendable only to those who have seen all 6 of the preceding X-Men movies.  The best part is that this gargantuan task works.
            It’s great to see familiar faces return to the dark future of a post-apocalyptic world where mutants have been rounded up and killed by the incredibly cool “Sentinel” robots.  Old friends Wolverine(Hugh Jackman), Professor X(Patrick Stewart), Mageneto(Ian McLellan ), Storm (Halle Berry), Kitty(Ellen Page), Colossus(Daniel Cudmore) and are the resistance, assisted by newcomers such as the portal creating Blink, energy using Bishop, and agile Warpath.  This future storyline would have been cool enough as its own movie; there are some incredibly intense action scenes of the crew surviving against the Sentinels.  The stakes are incredibly high however, and there are some emotional final stands made.  Again and again the last X-Men alive are slaughtered only for Kitty to use her time powers to go back and warn the group of where the next attack will be. A more permanent solution arises in sending Wolverine not back to just weeks ago, but years to his younger body.  The future or “present” era only appears sporadically through the film and the shift is sometimes jarring. But it is redeemed by the veteran cast members all giving performances just like the old movies, if not even further aided by the desperate atmosphere.
            1973 is where Wolverine arrives, the year Mystique (Jennifer Lawrence) killed Bolivar Trask (Peter Dinklage) and kickstarted the Sentinel program.  These three have some of the most screen time, and this is good because they are powerful characters and actors. Lawrence is great as the now more villain-like Mystique, however she does have random awkward “funny” lines or two.   Because of the Magneto/Professor X/Wolverine/etc dynamics it also feels like Dinklage’s Trask is underused.
            What works once again are the younger characters of the 1973 era.  Director Bryan Singer has done a good job taking over the reins of the feel of the more fresh younger cast, and its even complemented by funky music. The ageless Wolverine fits perfectly alongside the young Professor X (James McAvoy), Magneto (Michael Fassbender), and Beast (Nicholas Hoult).  It’s a riveting twisting and turning plot, but it’s held together by the great dynamics between this group.  There are some tense standoffs between Xavier and Erik, and its mostly impressive how each character has their own individual story add to the overall “stop the Sentinels from screwing over the world” story.
            There are some great visuals and action set-pieces. One can really tell that this has the highest budget of the series; there are some jaw dropping moments of spectacle.  The most cool sequence involves new character Quicksilver (Evan Peters) who has the ability to travel insanely fast.  Where a neat enough scene would have been to see him merely quickly take out enemies,  the best idea ever was to see how HE sees the world: in slow motion. This moment is a snazzy combo of awesome and hilarious. 
            One of the complaints would be that Quicksilver is only featured in a small segment of the overall film. Since the movie has so many characters, it’s understandable but the shuffling overwhelms at times, like the two simultaneous time periods.  Its flaws also play into the timeline, which is understandable since the franchise is so messed up. Luckily, this solves everything with some…things. Still doesn’t explain flaws such as why the Toad in this movie has messed up skin and goggles fused into his head while the one from X-men “1” looked totally different.  This is just one example of the luckily handful of plotholes. But that’s to be expected from time travel, things might get messy.
            X-Men DOFP managed to capture the greatest characters, stylistic elements, and reasons to love the past legends of these characters.  It’s quite a ride, it’s not perfect, but it has a lot on its plate. It manages to both be a tribute and a finale to everything that has come before and fill in the gaps, and yet it also paves the way for a tantalizing new world of possibilities for the future.  8.64 out of 10